Jailing the innocent

In October, Veronica Germaine’s charges were dropped. But she’s still in jail. The 31-year-old Northern Tutchone woman had 23 breaches…

In October, Veronica Germaine’s charges were dropped.

But she’s still in jail.

The 31-year-old Northern Tutchone woman had 23 breaches and assault charges.

All were dropped.

Germaine was deemed criminally not responsible because of mental disorders.

She was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression.

“They were going to ship me to a psychiatric hospital down south for a year because they had no place to put me here,” she said from the Whitehorse Correctional Centre on Wednesday.

But Germaine fought against it.

“I wanted to stay in the Yukon because this is my home,” she said.

“This is where I need my support — this is where I’ve got to find my support and where I’ve got to find the help I need.

“If you ship me off, maybe it’ll screw me up more out there and when I come back, I’ll have nothing here.”

Germaine was given another option — stay in jail.

“They had no other place to put me,” she said.

“They can’t put me in the women’s shelter because that’s for women who were being abused. And they can’t put me in the hospital because they don’t have a 24-hour watch.

“So they had to put me in jail.”

Germaine volunteered to go.

“Or else I would have been shipped out,” she said.

But now that she’s not an inmate, she lost her job cleaning the jail’s gym.

“I’m in locked-down 23/7,” she said.

“I can’t work and don’t get paid as an inmate — they took my job away.”

Germaine was making $1.50 a day for the cleaning.

“I don’t even know what I am,” she said.

“I don’t even know what rights I have.

“I’m not an inmate, but they can still punish me.”

Germaine recently ended up in a separate, windowless dorm because she “mouthed off to one of the guards.”

“I’m here to get help mentally,” she said.

“But I’m not getting help here.”

Every couple of weeks, Germaine sees a private psychologist paid for by the Northern Tutchone Council.

She is also allowed to leave the jail on Tuesdays and Thursdays from roughly 9 a.m. until noon.

“Two people from here escort me around,” she said.

Although she’s happy she was able to stay in the territory, Germaine is frustrated with the lack of options for women struggling with mental health issues.

Time and again, Germaine has watched male inmates move from the jail to the Adult Resource Centre — a Whitehorse transition home for men.

“It really sickens me,” she said.

“One man who was just in here two months ago, now he’s in the ARC.

“That could have been me, Kerry (Nolan) — a lot of us could be out there right now being integrated back into the community.

“But they’re keeping us in here — it’s so unfair.”

There’s no transitional housing for women getting out of jail, said Justice spokesperson Chris Beacom in a past interview with the News.

 “There was a house — a place with beds, but it’s no longer operating,” he said.

“We don’t have the support — we have to go and do everything on our own,” said Germaine.

“I really don’t like being in here,” she added. “Especially when I could be out there in a halfway house and I could be doing all these things to integrate back into the community because I really think that’s important for me.”

Germaine grew up in a Mayo group home.

“They took me away from my mother when I was five,” she said.

The next 10 years were hell.

“The sexual abuse started right away,” said Germaine.

She and her two younger brothers also used to get strapped with “anything and everything — whatever was in front of them.”

“They’d work us,” she said.

By the time she was 10, Germaine was “carving up her face with razors.”

“I used to just sit and bang my head against the wall,” she said.

During her decade in the group home, Germaine was abused mentally, physically and sexually.

She became suicidal.

“At 14 I said, ‘Get me the hell out of this group home or I was going to keep trying to kill myself,’” she said.

“That’s how bad it was getting — I didn’t care to live anymore.”

Germaine’s childhood trauma left her with severe anger issues and pain.

Her first major charge, for arson, occurred just after Germaine had recounted many of these experiences to lawyers looking into her childhood abuse.

“I was just so angry and numb,” she said.

“I tried to burn myself down.

“I didn’t even think of the person living above me.”

Many of Germaine’s assault charges can also be linked to her childhood trauma.

“There was a man in the community who everyone knew was molesting his children,” she said.

“I told him off outright and he hit me.

“And I assaulted him — I don’t even remember doing it.”

Germaine wants help. But it’s not easy to get any in the territory.

“I don’t even know my culture — I grew up in the system,” she said.

There are a number of people working on Germaine’s file, including Marie Fast from mental health and Clara Northcott at the jail.

“They are supposed to come together and make a plan for me,” she said.

“But it’s frustrating because it’s taking so long — there’s a lot of awareness but no one is doing anything.”

Germaine pushed for addictions treatment.

At first, Alcohol and Drug Services turned her down, because she was in jail.

“But I explained I wasn’t an inmate,” she said.

Germaine will be starting a 28-day program in early January.

She doesn’t know what will happen after that.

“I’ll probably end up back in jail,” she said.

“Because there is no other secure housing for women like me.

“I don’t know how long I’m going to be in here.”